The Covenant of Life

June 10, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Marriage, Quotations, Sanctification

The Westminster Larger Catechism (modern version by the EPC):

Q. 20. What was God’s providence relating to the humans he created? 

A. God providentially put Adam and Eve in paradise and assigned them the job of taking care of it. He gave them permission to eat everything that grew, put them in authority over all the creatures, and established marriage as a help for Adam. God allowed them to have fellowship with him, instituted the Sabbath, and made a covenant of life with them on the condition of their personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience. The tree of life was a sign guaranteeing this covenant. Finally, God told them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or they would die.

The Edenic Covenant: Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace?

June 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Old Testament, Quotations, Sacraments, Sanctification

     “The Adamic covenant should not be considered in such narrow terms that it is seen only of the eating prohibition and its consequences. It is also improper to call this covenant a covenant of works. The implication then would be that other covenants are not covenants of works, or that this covenant, which obviously had its inception before the Fall, is not a covenant of grace. Then grace can only be evident in matters which have to do with redemption, which is a post-fall activity.
     “Such distinctions should be abandoned. All covenants between God and man should be seen as covenants of grace. The metaphor of covenant portrays a relationship between a sovereign and a vassal. The sovereign is under no obligation to initiate this arrangement. That he does so is a matter of grace. But the vassal is going to benefit from such an arrangement.
     “When we see the first biblical covenant in this light we will find that it frees us from the problems introduced by a covenant of works concept. First, it removes the idea that Adam could have worked for his salvation.
     “Second, it puts the entire original creation into a different perspective. The creation, with Adam as its head, is seen to be under covenant obligation to the Creator-Sovereign.
     “Third, there are implications, in an original Creator-creation covenant, for the concept of free will. Is a creation which is in covenant relationship free to do whatever it wants? When man and the rest of creation with him chose to disobey the creator this was an act of rebellion. It was willful breaking of the creation covenant.
     “The covenant with Abraham, Aaron (Levi) and David are covenants of promise. God promises to do something for Abraham, Aaron or David and their descendants. But when we consider what happened to some of their descendants we find that God rejected them and God stated that they had broken his covenant. Implicit in every covenant is the obligation of obedience. Along with promise-covenants is the understanding that those to whom the promises come must obey the Lord. Failure to obey marks the one under promise-covenant oath a rebel.” John M. Zinkand, Covenants: God’s Claims (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt University Press, 1984), pp. 54-55.

Auto-pilot and Sinful Ideas

May 11, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Creeds, Easter, Eschatology, Heresy, King Jesus, Meditations, Resurrection
1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NKJV)
12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
As readers of Scripture we are often tempted to go into auto-pilot and assume that we know what a text is saying without really paying attention. Consequently, we miss the point of the text.
Take the Scripture before us today. Many read our text and assume that Paul is arguing for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” And so we go on auto-pilot and move on to the next paragraph. But this is not Paul’s point. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point. Jesus’ resurrection is not under dispute; Paul has already asserted that Jesus’ resurrection is central to the Gospel he preached. 
So what is his point? His point is that all other human beings are going to rise from the dead. You see the Corinthians weren’t denying that Jesus had risen from the dead; they were denying that the rest of us would rise from our graves. Listen to Paul again: Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead [generally, at the end of history]? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.
Notice that Paul is endeavoring to highlight the inconsistency of the Corinthians’ beliefs. If there is no resurrection at the end of history; if the dead will not be raised when Christ returns again in glory, then neither did Jesus rise from the dead. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that every human being will rise from his tomb and stand before God. Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. So note Paul’s argument: if we deny the general resurrection then we must, of necessity, deny Jesus’ resurrection. And if we deny Jesus’ resurrection, then we are still in our sins and without hope. But Jesus has risen from the dead, therefore there will be a general resurrection. Paul’s point is that the resurrection of the dead on the last day is a central part of the Christian faith; we believe, as the creeds remind us, in the resurrection of the dead.
In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading Paul’s words here in these verses. We have gone on auto-pilot. We imagine that we can teach that Jesus rose from the dead and simultaneously teach that our ultimate destiny as human beings is to go to heaven when we die. But this is not the Gospel; this is not the Christian hope for the future; this is not the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection. Our hope is that we shall emerge from our graves just like Jesus. So our confidence is that the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished but that they do rest in their graves until the resurrection. We are not to be pitied; for we have not only in this life placed our hope in Jesus; there shall be a resurrection of the just and the unjust – Jesus’ resurrection is proof.
What Paul’s words remind us is that sins are not simply wrong actions; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and sinful. By denying the general resurrection, the Corinthians had embraced an idea that was poisonous to the Gospel. So when God in His grace and mercy shines the light of truth on our error and corrects us, corrects our thinking, what ought we to do? What ought the Corinthians have done? We ought to confess our error, ask God’s forgiveness for our folly, and rely upon the sacrifice of Jesus to make us right with God despite our erroneous ideas. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sinful ideas even as he is the sacrifice for our sinful actions. And praise God this is so.

And so reminded that our ideas are often sinful and dishonoring to our Creator, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through Christ. Let us kneeel as we confess.

Prayer for the Churches of America

May 2, 2014 in Augustine, Church History, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Creeds, Education, John Calvin, Politics, Postmillennialism, Prayer, Word of God, Worship

May 1st was the National Day of Prayer. I joined a number of other pastors and Christians at the Coeur d’Alene City Hall to pray for our nation and our local community. I was charged to pray for the churches of America. Below is the prayer I wrote – it is patterned after Psalm 80. May the Lord have mercy on the church in America – we are compromised and corrupt and in need of God’s grace.

I was reminded as we were praying of an anecdote about Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer was asked by a young man who was zealous for the Lord, “Dr. Schaeffer, do you think we’ll witness a revival in our day?” Schaeffer responded, “I hope not.” When the young man expressed surprise at his answer, Schaeffer explained. “You young people are so shallow doctrinally and biblically, that were the fires of revival to fall on the church today it would be like lighting a pile of kindling. The fire would burn real hot and then die out in a short time. Start reading old books; start reading Calvin and Augustine and Luther and Athanasius. Develop some doctrinal and biblical substance so that were God to send revival the fires would have something to burn.” As much as I appreciated the zeal of the prayer event, Schaeffer’s comments ring true and express our deep need for more theological and biblical wisdom. May God make us like tamarack logs that will burn hot and long.

National Day of Prayer
May 1, 2014

Matthew 16:18 (NKJV)
Jesus said, “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

Almighty and Everlasting God
Hear our pleading and our cry for help
As we pray for your church,
The church for which Jesus died and rose again;
The church which Jesus is building even now;
The church which we believe shall triumph over her foes
In accordance with Jesus’ promise.

Hear our prayer, O Lord,
For you are our Shepherd,
And we are the sheep of your pasture;
You lead us forth like a flock.
Shine forth! You who dwell between the cherubim;
Rise up in strength and come to save us.
Restore us, O God;
Cause your face to shine upon us,
And we shall be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
Our churches often 
compromise your truth;
fail to proclaim your Name;
shrink back in fear from the taunts of your enemies;
fight one with another;
So we have become a reproach to our enemies;
We have become full of wickedness and deceit;
Our shepherds have failed to lead;
Our sheep have refused to follow
Wild goats have entered the sheepfold
And wolves have torn the flock.

Have mercy on us, O Lord;
Restore us once again;
Cause your face to shine upon us,
And we shall be saved.
For this is your Church, O Lord,
The vine that you have planted;
You are the One who prospered us here in this land.
Who caused us to take deep root
And fill the land.

So return, we beseech You, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this your vine.
Grant us grace that we might
Fully embrace your truth;
Joyfully proclaim your Name;
Fearlessly stand against wickedness and deceit;
And love one another,
So that the nations might know
that you are the Lord and
that we are your people.

In the Name of Christ our Lord,
Amen.

Review: Letters to a Young Calvinist

November 8, 2012 in Book Reviews, Church History, Creeds, John Calvin, Singing Psalms, Worship

I recently read through James K.A. Smith’s Letters to a Young Calvinist. Having also just read his work Desiring the Kingdom I thought I’d pick this up. There were a number of things I liked; others I didn’t. Overall helpful but not sure that it’s what I’d give to a young Calvinist. Maybe. Pretty decisive, eh?
So for the good. His warnings against spiritual pride are very apropos. I remember years ago reading a great edition of Credenda/Agenda entitled, “Tender Mercies: How to Avoid Sinning Like a Calvinist.” That was a great collection of articles – very helpful as a young Calvinist. In fact, it’s probably what I would recommend handing out rather than this book. The magazine hit this issue of pride repeatedly and well – as does Smith. I did feel, however, that in his slightly condescending tone toward Calvinistic Baptists that he was being a tad inconsistent. I have my share of criticisms for Calvinistic Baptists as well – but the tone struck me as wrong at points.
Second, his insistence that the center of Calvinism is an insistence on grace was delightful. Loved it. Grace all the way down – everything is a gift. So what should our fundamental attitude be toward the world and one another? Well what do we do when others give us a gift? We say thanks! Overflowing with thankfulness!
Third, I loved his analogy comparing the creeds to grammar lessons. Very helpful! He says:
Or, finally, you might think of the creeds and confessions as articulating the grammar of the language of faith. They’re not meant to be a substitute for speaking the language! Rather, they provide a way for one to learn a ‘second’ language. If I’m studying Greek grammar, it’s not so that I can know Greek grammar; it’s so that I can read Greek, and perhaps the Greek New Testament in particular. So also, I learn the ‘grammar’ of faith articulated in the creeds and confessions, not as ends in themselves, but as an invitation to read Scripture well, and as guides to faithful practice.
Fourth, his historical consciousness and respect for the corporate nature of the church, the voice of the church over time was very helpful.
Fifth, his criticism of the incipient Gnosticism in much of Calvinistic Baptist and even Reformed writings is helpful. The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains – so let us receive it and give thanks. I’ll never think of Shedd in the same way again.
The bad? First, his definition of semper reformanda as a means of abandoning teachings of the NT was troubling – in particular his egalitarian tendencies in his approach to the relationship between men and women, especially the role of women in ministry. His grammatical ambivalence for using the traditional English “he” and “him” for a generic person reveal his staunchly egalitarian stance. All this while professing reverence for the text. No wonder the CRC is heading the wrong direction.
Second, the centrality of the psalms for corporate worship is not given the attention which I think it deserves. I know that Smith considers the psalms important for worship. His Desiring the Kingdom gives a tangible taste of liturgical worship incorporating the psalms. But I fear it is “psalms-lite” and what we need is to be psalm saturated. This is important for many of our younger Calvinists because they’re embracing a form of worship that, in principle, undermines many of the doctrinal convictions of Calvinism. And the truth is lex orandi, lex credenda – the law of prayer is the law of faith. We become what we worship and if the God we worship is not approached with reverence and awe, as a consuming fire, then our theology is going to begin heading down the wrong trajectory. The psalms are the key – as they have been historically in the Reformed churches.
Overall a helpful, easy to read book. Reviewing it helps me see there was more I appreciated than not. It was a useful complement to his book Desiring the Kingdom which I also recommend.

Confessing Christ

September 12, 2011 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Creeds, Meditations

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7


As a congregation, we at Trinity Church have been making our way through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Here in Colossians 2 Paul begins to transition away from his opening greetings to the exhortations which he felt compelled to deliver to the Colossians. It seems that the Colossians were being tempted to move away from the message that their pastor Epaphras was preaching in favor of some new teaching that was tickling their ears.

Consequently, Paul urges them to continue in Christ even as they began in Him. Don’t be moved away from the Gospel that you originally heard: the good news that though we were dead in transgressions and sins, estranged from God because of our rebellion, God Himself took on human flesh and dwelt among us; He sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin and slavery and to restore us to fellowship with Himself; Jesus lived for us, suffered for us, died for us, was buried for us, rose again from the dead on the third day for us, ascended into heaven for us, and has sent His Spirit to give us faith, make us more holy, and assure us of our resurrection. This is the message you heard – now, Paul says, cling to it tenaciously.

Notice that Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith as it was handed down in the churches, to (in his words to Titus) hold firmly to the traditions which we have been taught. Like Jude, Paul wants us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

This injunction which Paul gives the Colossians is one of the reasons that our churches, every Lord’s Day, recite one of the ecumenical creeds together – in a moment we will be singing a setting of the Apostles’ Creed. As these summaries of Scriptural teaching rest in our bones and become part of us through corporate confession, we are being rooted and built up in Him. For each Lord’s Day we grow in our knowledge of Him – where did He come from? He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. Who is He? He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Is he a creature? No for he is begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. What has he done? Through Him all things were made, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Christ we worship. The very one who is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor. The very one who created all things and to whom it is right and fitting to give glory and dominion. And it is in this One that Paul tells us to be rooted and grounded and in whom we are to grow.

And note that Paul insists that it is not enough to recite this faith, not enough to know who Jesus is and what he has done; he commands us to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound is to overflow, to know no limits. The words we recite or sing each Lord’s Day should come from hearts that are in the full flood of thanksgiving – thanks for rocks and trees and good friends and green grass and fresh honey and butter and flashlights and honorable men and lovely women and cheese and forgiveness and resurrection.

And so, coming into His presence, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to appreciate fully His glory and to honor His name accordingly by rejoicing in the faith as we have been taught.

Reciting the Creeds in Faith

May 10, 2011 in Bible - NT - James, Creeds, Meditations

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19


In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is Eastertide and we have once again shifted the version of the Creed we are confessing – singing now the Apostles’ Creed – and so it is always good to remember why we do what we do.

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess–we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith–we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the green revolution. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.

While remembering why we do this, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? This morning we’ll have the privilege of witnessing a baptism and reaffirming our faith in God. But the same basic reaffirmation is made each week. Are you approaching worship in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed by His Spirit? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.

Mindless Repetition

July 29, 2009 in Bible - NT - James, Creeds, Meditations

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19

In confessional churches there is an ever present danger – the danger of mindless repetition. The prophets in Israel were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for failing to draw near to God in their hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. “Woe to those who draw near to me with their lips but whose hearts are far from me.”

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. It is always good to remember why we do this, so consider just a few reasons:

1. Common confession is a fitting response of faith to God’s Word, a declaration of trust in the Sovereign Lord. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and in our churches more and more we need to confess–we trust in His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him. The creeds are an excellent way to express this faith–we trust Him.

2. In light of the massive syncretism in our culture, the recitation of creeds is a forceful way to declare whom we worship. We will not bow to America’s idol, some general theistic deity. Neither shall we worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the
universe. We will invoke the blessing of the Triune God and no other. We worship Him.

3. It enables us to verbalize our thankfulness to God for those who have gone before us. We worship the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield. When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to our forefathers. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we lay hold of it with everything we have. So we thank Him.

While remembering why we do this, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? For “believe” can be used in a variety of ways – as we see in our passage from James today: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”

And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who calls you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship each week in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creed intelligently and faithfully or by rote? These are the questions that the different meanings of the word “believe” force us to ask. Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing their meaning.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.

Why Confess the Creeds?

February 18, 2009 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Creeds, Meditations

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Last week we considered Paul’s admonition to us in this text that we are to walk in Christ in the same way in which we received Him. Just as we received Him by faith – rejecting all attempts at self-deliverance or self-justification – so we are to walk by faith, looking to Him and to His promises to fulfill in us that which is good and pleasing in His sight.

Today Paul admonishes us to be rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith which we have been taught. Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith as it was handed down in the churches, to (in his words to Titus) hold firmly to the traditions which we have been taught. Like Jude, Paul wants us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. To rejoice in the goodness of God, who has delivered us from our sin and rebellion and restored us to a right relationship with Him through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, who lives and reigns together with the Father and the Spirit for all eternity.

This injunction which Paul gives the Colossians is one of the reasons that we, each Lord’s Day, recite the Nicene Creed together. As this summary of Scriptural teaching rests in our bones and becomes part of us through corporate confession, we are being rooted and built up in Him. For each Lord’s Day we grow in our knowledge of Him – where did He come from? He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. Who is He? God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Is he a creature? Begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. What has he done? Through whom all things were made, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Christ we worship. The very one who is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor. The very one who created all things and to whom it is right and fitting to give glory and dominion. And it is in this One that Paul tells us to be rooted and grounded and in whom we are to grow.

And so, coming into His presence, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to appreciate fully His glory and to honor His name accordingly.